News & Information

The Edward C. & Ann T. Roberts Foundation Announces $500,000 Initiative to Fund Black Artists

Grants will go to the Amistad Center, Hartford Stage, and Hartford Symphony Orchestra

The Joyce C. Willis Fund for Excellence and Equity in the Arts will honor former Roberts Foundation board member and champion of diversity in the arts

Joyce Willis

West Hartford, CT (December 2, 2020) — The Edward C. & Ann T. Roberts Foundation announced it has launched a major initiative to support excellence and equity in the arts with gifts totaling $500,000 to The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, Hartford Stage, and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. The initiative is named in honor of Joyce C. Willis, a former Roberts Foundation board member, founding member and past board president of The Amistad Center, board member of The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and ardent supporter of Hartford Stage. Willis, who retired from The Hartford Financial Services Group as Vice President of Corporate Communications in 2005, died of COVID-19 in June.

“By committing substantial financial resources to this initiative, The Roberts Foundation is leveraging our genuine commitment to both excellence in the arts and racial equity to meet this moment and advance real change for the better,” said Olivia White, secretary of the Roberts Foundation. “The board is thrilled that we can support organizations that meant so much to Joyce in their efforts to lift up Black artists and engage diverse audiences.”

Each organization will receive $150,000 over two years and may apply for additional funding from a $50,000 fund designated for ancillary programming. The Amistad Center will establish a residency for an emerging or mid-career Black artist to create a new body of work which will culminate in a major exhibition in 2022. Hartford Stage will contract a Black director for a two-year residency who will work with other artists of color to create a powerful production for the theater’s main stage each year. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra will inaugurate both an Educational Diversity Fellowship for student musicians of color and engage a Black musician in residence to work with the orchestra and in the community. The three grant recipients plan to launch their respective initiatives in 2021.

“Joyce would be amazed and overjoyed that her passion will live on by unleashing the talents of gifted Black artists and all who will be touched by their endeavors,” said Jim Burney, a long-time friend and executor of Willis’ estate. “We applaud the Roberts Foundation for creating this enduring legacy in Joyce’s memory at this important time.”

In response to the killing of George Floyd, the foundation rededicated its efforts to invest in new and expanded programs that will advance racial equity in arts by increasing its investment in Black artists and all artists of color as well providing high quality arts experiences for students and families of color in the Greater Hartford area. In the future, the foundation hopes to help nonprofits increase the diversity of their boards, staff and audiences, and has recently funded a Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility study for the Wadsworth Atheneum.

“The Joyce C. Willis Fund will not only serve as a catalyst to help Black artists excel in their careers, but also will encourage other organizations to examine their efforts to promote racial equity in the arts,” says Lisa M. Curran, executive director of The Roberts Foundation. “We hope this initiative is the first step in encouraging local nonprofits embrace cultural change and increase their investment in artists of color.”

Learn more about our commitment to racial equity in the arts


The Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation is a private, special purpose foundation founded in 1964 by Ned and Sunny Roberts. In accordance with its founders’ wishes, the foundation is dedicated to supporting and encouraging excellence in the arts throughout the Capital Region. Since its establishment, the foundation has awarded more than $10 million to nearly 200 area non-profit organizations.